Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Al Capone: Chicago's Most Infamous Mob Boss

The Final Chapter

Initially, Al was a prisoner at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta and quickly became its most famous prisoner.  There were charges almost immediately that he was living "like a king."  While that was certainly an exaggeration, he clearly lived better than the rest of the prisoners.  He had more socks, underwear, sets of sheets, etc. than anyone else.  He maintained these extravagances by virtue of a hollow handle in his tennis racket in which he secreted several thousand dollars in cash.

Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary
Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary

In 1934, Attorney General Homer Cummings took over the prison on Alcatraz Island to warehouse dangerous, intractable criminals.  In a radio address, Cummings explained that "here may be isolated the criminals of the vicious and irredeemable type so that their evil influence may not be extended to other prisoners."

In August of 1934, Capone was sent to Alcatraz.  His days of living like a king in prison were gone.  "Capone would run nothing on or from Alcatraz; he wouldn't even know what was happening outside.  There would be no smuggled letters or messages.

Mae Capone avoids reporters at Alcatraz
Mae Capone avoids reporters at Alcatraz
All incoming letters were censored, then retyped by guards with prohibited subjects omitted, which included the faintest whiff of business or the doings of former associates.  Censors excised even mention of current events.  No newspapers were allowed; magazines had to be more than seven months old.  The only source of news was new arrivals.  At best, prisoners could write one letter a week, rigorously censored, and only to their immediate family members.  Only immediate family could visit, only two of them each month, and they had to write the warden for permission each time.  Visitors and prisoners made no physical contact.  They sat on opposite side of plate glass... No one could smuggle money into Capone, and he could not have spent it anyway." (Schoenberg).

How did Capone manage with the loss of popularity and status?  He seemed to do reasonably well and got along better than most from the standpoint of adjustment.   The same was not true of his health.  The syphilis that he had contracted as a very young man was moving into the tertiary stage called neurosyphilis.  By 1938, he was confused and disoriented.

Al spent the last year of his sentence, which had been reduced to six years and five months for a combination of good behavior and work credits, in the hospital section being treated for syphilis.  He was released in November of 1939.  Mae took him to a hospital in Baltimore where he was treated until March of 1940. 

Sonny Capone seemed to be a remarkably friendly and well-adjusted young man, despite his very unusual background.  In 1940, he married an Irish girl and settled in Miami.   Sonny and Diana provided Al and Mae with four granddaughters, which were treated with lavish attention.

For his remaining years, Al slowly deteriorated in the quiet splendor of his Palm Island palace.  Mae stuck by him until January 25, 1947 when he died of cardiac arrest at age 48, his grieving family surrounding him.  A week before, Andrew Volstead, author of the Volstead Act that ushered in the era of Prohibition from 1920 to 1933, died at the age of 87.

"In his forty-eight years, Capone had left his mark on the rackets and on Chicago, and more than anyone else he had demonstrated the folly of Prohibition; in the process he also made a fortune.  Beyond that, he captured and held the imagination of the American public as few public figures ever do.  Capone's fame should have been fleeting, a passing sensation, but instead it lodged permanently in the consciousness of Americans, for whom he redefined the concept of crime into an organized endeavor modeled on corporate enterprise.  As he was at pains to point out, many of his crimes were relative; bootlegging was criminal only because a certain set of laws decreed it, and then the laws were changed" (Bergreen).

Mount Carmel Cemetery
Mount Carmel Cemetery

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